Former lawyer Rick Reimer was charged with driving under the influence after he was pulled over while smoking a joint on February 11, 2002. Rather than put it out, he calmly continued toking as the cop approached his vehicle and asked for his license.
"Is that cannabis?" the bewildered cop asked, his jaw dropping at Reimer's brazen puffing. The last person he pulled over might have been a farmer chewing a stalk of wheat on a tractor.
"Eventually it came down to him saying, 'you can't smoke and drive; you're impaired,'" recounted Reimer. "He claimed I was weaving over the centre line, which was pure bogus, but it was an excuse to have a dispute with me. He saw my behavior as being a confrontation with him, and in a sense it was, but it is an issue that ? in my opinion ? has to be litigated."
Reimer hopes the local courts will put truth above small-town politics. Nestled on the hip of Ontario's rugged Algonquin park, Reimer's home of Barry's Bay is one of those rural pockets, originally settled by conservative religious folk, that stuffed itself full of hippies during the Vietnam war, producing unusual lifestyle contrasts, a strange blend of pot tolerance and intolerance, running through the community like hot and cold currents in a river. In Barry's Bay, Rick Reimer is like molten lava bubbling to the surface, a reflection of Reimer's repulsion to submerging his personal truths under the slick, still waters of legal professionalism.
"Here I was defending people and thinking, 'there, but the for the grace of God, go I.' Especially having a judge look me straight in the eye and say, 'your client is scum because he smokes marijuana,' and then hearing him say right afterwards, 'you are probably one of the best lawyers that appears in front of me.' I thought I had to do something to end that hypocrisy. It was about six months afterwards [in 1998] that I came out publicly, and about another six months afterwards that I was diagnosed with MS [Multiple Sclerosis], which gave me a legitimate medical reason to smoke."
Since "coming out", Reimer was one of the first to receive a medical marijuana exemption from the Canadian Government in 2000, and was instrumental in organizing major political pot protests in his home province of Ontario, including the 2002 Million Marijuana March in Ottawa. He also hosts a radio show in Killalloe, and once smoked a vaporizer full of dank buds with Federal Marijuana Party Leader Marc Boris St Maurice before a room full of Canadian Senators. It happened during his presentation to the Senate's Special Committee on Illegal Drugs when it met last May to reconsider Canada's drug laws.
"Boris wanted to smoke it with tobacco," said Reimer. "But one of the senators demurred, and said Mr Reimer probably needs some marijuana? put some marijuana in there!"
One friend of Reimer's, Rob Brown, told me how Reimer helped Brown get his exemption, so that he could use cannabis to treat a life-threatening combination of Hepatitis and multiple cancerous tumors on his liver, spleen, prostate and bladder, without fear of police harassment. In January 2000, Reimer encouraged Brown to camp out on the steps of Ottawa's Parliament Hill.
"I had decided that I would camp there and puke and shit until they gave me my exemption," said Brown. "I was fed up enough that I would have stayed there until they either gave me my exemption or I died."
Near death, but still clinging to the rough steps of our nation's halls of power during an icy Canadian winter, it took Brown two days to embarrass Health Canada into forking over the exemption he had been waiting a year to receive. Sadly, despite his exemption, Brown was raided on July 25, 2002. As he had a few more green sisters than his med-pot permit allowed, police seized about 150 of them, but showed some compassion when they left Brown with 350 others for medicine.
Brown also told me how Reimer provided the money Brown needed to buy some land and a home; how Reimer had done more for him than many people do for their own family.
Although Reimer's illness forced him to retire from law in 2000, he had already spent countless hours on pro-bono cases for people throughout the community, some of whom I had an opportunity to meet personally. Reimer also once defended a 14-year-old boy busted for cannabis at school.
"It was perhaps enough to get a dozen of his friends high," said Reimer. "I was fighting to keep him out of jail, but the judge gave him three days, as a sort of compromise. If he had forced himself sexually on a 10 year old, or if he had brought a 40 oz bottle of alcohol into the school, they would have tried to find some way around putting him in jail? but because it was cannabis, they put him away."
While in Barry's Bay, three people told me that Ontario Provincial Police bullies detested Reimer, and were looking for some way to get at him.
"I can speculate on the reasons," said Reimer. "I've been told by many people that when they were being busted and shaken down cops asked them, 'what do you know about Reimer, tell us something and things will go better for you.' Why it's happening? I think police are by and large cowards. They are afraid to look freedom in the eye, so they are looking at ways to strike at me and so to strike at the cause that I stand for. But they won't come up to me and say anything to my face. They would rather do it behind my back, paying off some informer with money or mercy."
Reimer was enjoying the legal protection of his exemption when he was pulled over that fateful day last February. The cop couldn't charge Reimer with possession, and couldn't take away his cannabis. Yet here was Reimer ? pot-advocate Reimer, legally-suave Reimer, much-despised by police Reimer ? openly blazing a stick of weed right in the cop's face.
Reimer had researched the science. Holland's Institute for Human Psychopharmacology concluded that marijuana has a relatively small effect on driving performance. A US National Highway Transporation Safety Administration study found that marijuana is rarely involved in traffic accidents unless mixed with booze. Australia's University of Adelaide that found stoned drivers were less likely to cause accidents (CC#29, Stoned drivers are safe drivers).
"I know that smoking does not impair my ability to drive one bit," he asserted. "It enhances my ability to drive. But I still have to be prepared to deal with people who have the mentality that cannabis is just some different kind of alcohol. There are some people that still believe that. The crown attorney's office is calling an expert witness who is going to say that marijuana is worse than alcohol, that any consumption of any amount of marijuana by any person must impair that person's ability to drive."
"I will argue that not everyone is impaired by the consumption of marijuana. Everyone has different tolerance levels. If I can argue that successfully, then it is simply a matter of 'am I one of those people?' It would help if people could send letters saying 'I smoke and drive' and that not everyone is impaired by the consumption of marijuana. They can even write anonymously. It will help."
The date of Reimer's trial is December, 12, 2002. Letters can be sent to his address, below.
? Rick Reimer: RR2, Barry's Bay, Ontario, Canada, K0J 1B0
? For more on cannabis and driving: www.cannabisculture.com/news/driving